You are probably sitting at your local movie theater watching 20 minutes of previews. You see high-profiled stars, depressing or inspirational storylines, hear triumphant music, and are mostly based on a true story. By the time the preview is over, we roll our eyes and think to ourselves “Oscar bait!” If a movie looks like it was specifically made to win an Oscar, you are watching an Oscar bait movie.
Shouldn’t the best Oscar-nominated movies be the ones that do not try so hard? There are plenty of times when filmmakers did not make movies for the sole purpose of winning an Oscar, but won anyways like Forrest Gump and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Where are those movies at the award ceremonies today?
You can thank The Deer Hunter for that! At the preview screening, this film was considered to be a disaster. The film’s consultant, Allan Carr, felt that because of the film’s depressing and grim content, audiences will only see it if it was Oscar-nominated. In 1978, Carr had limited screenings set up in Los Angeles and New York, with film critics and Academy members making up the audience. The Academy loved it and it won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Therefore, a new formula was set.
It is not like an Oscar bait movie is necessarily wrong. It is just that knowing what movies can end up being nominated at the Academy Awards can be very predictable. They also all appear to have the same ingredients. Knowing the ingredients for creating Oscar bait movies will help you be the judge whether or not these films are trying too hard for a nomination and if it is even deserved.
1. Period Genre
Throw in a dash of big costumes, lavish set pieces, a historical event or book adaption and you have got an Oscar bait movie! Period pieces or costume dramas tend to be Oscar bait films with a serious subject matter. The same can be said with movies that are based on a true story or biopics. For example, Finding Neverland is a period film that takes place in the early 1900s about J.M. Barrie’s inspiration for writing the epic play, Peter Pan. You get big stars like Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet as well as tear-jerker scenes. This movie earned seven nominations at the 77th Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Original Score.
2. The Release Date
If filmmakers want their movies to receive nominations, it is all about the timing- the final two months of the year, to be exact. Oscar bait films need to be released before December 31st, but close enough towards the February ceremony as possible. An ideal time for these movies would be either Christmas weekend or limited releases. Limited releases lead to early talk and early nomination rumors. This will make audiences scurry into the theater to see the film that everyone is talking about.
3. Holocaust Genre
Holocaust films contain powerful ingredients found in plenty of Oscar bait movies. It’s historical, dramatic, represents inhumanity, and also contains tear-jerker endings. Pick a genre and your Holocaust film has a great chance of a nomination. The comedy Life is Beautiful was able to win Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor at the 71st Academy Awards. Even directors known for making blockbusters like Steven Spielberg can also go home with a Best Picture trophy for Schindler’s List!
4. Broadway Musical
Those catchy toe-tapper musical films tend to win our hearts as well as the Academy’s. Here’s a trick that the filmmakers of musical adaptations do- throw in an original song. This way, filmmakers can show their creativity by making their adaptation their own and scoring a Best Original Song win at the same time. This method was done in Evita with the Best Original Song winner You Must Love Me which was not present in the stage production. Songwriters Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice even admitted that they wrote this song for the purpose of a Best Original Song nomination!
5. Pushing Nominations Onto the Judges
From One Of The Leaked Episodes
Studios need to let the Academy know that they have their bait ready and are waiting for the fish to bite. One way to do that is by creating advertising campaigns directly to members of the Academy like the “For Your Consideration” campaigns. The ads in those campaigns are to catch the eyes only of Academy voters to make sure their movie is the only one they watch, increasing their chances of voting for it. Another way is through free screeners for Oscar bait films that have not been in theaters for long. The films are sent in DVDs to the Academy voters to make sure that their film is watched.
6. Mental Disability
Cinerama Releasing Corporation
These biopics or dramas tend to show the mental struggles of the main character. Audiences also see the hardships, struggles, and determination of the characters. In 1968, Cliff Robertson won Best Actor for playing a mentally handicapped man in Charly. Time Magazine believed this win was all promotion and not performance. Another example is Rain Man about the bond between a young man and his autistic brother. This film won Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actor.
7. Attractive to Ugly
And the Oscar goes to a gorgeous actress who can pull off playing ugly-looking characters with ease. These actresses must completely disguise their appearance. For example, Charlize Theron gained 30 pounds as well as thinned her hair and eyebrows for the movie Monster. This won her Best Actress at the 76th Academy Awards.
8. Physical Disability
Physically-disabled characters can surely help you win an Oscar. Actors have to change their appearance, speech, and movement. For instance, Daniel Day-Lewis an artist with cerebral palsy in My Left Foot. Day-Lewis employed slurred speech, stiff facial and limb movements. At the 62nd Academy Awards, he won Best Actor. Jamie Foxx also earned his Oscar in 2004’s Ray by taping his eyes shut to play the blind Ray Charles.
9. Help For the Underprivileged
Warner Bros. Pictures
Another common trend in Oscar bait films is seeing is a white person helping someone who is underprivileged. It makes us cheer for the white person in playing the role of a saint. We have seen that in movies like The Blind Side where a Christian white woman changes the life of a poor young black man, Michael Oher, who becomes a future football player. This movie was nominated for Best Picture and won Sandra Bullock an Oscar for Best Actress in 2009.
10. Underprivileged Black Women
Movies that have abused and usually illiterate black women are prone to be Oscar bait films. Audiences, as well as the Academy, are drawn to the intense drama these poor women face. For instance, 2009’s Precious was a very depressing character. She was raped by her father, abused by her mother, has a teen pregnancy, and is illiterate. Yet, this film got six nominations and won for Best Supporting Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay.
11. LGBT Community Injustices
The LGBT community faces attention from the Academy as well. Oscar bait movies love to show gays, lesbians, and transgender characters deal with life-threatening societal conflicts. For example, Milk is a biopic about Harvey Milk who faced oppression being the first openly gay politician in the 1970s. This movie won Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor at the 81st Academy Awards.
12. Actors Punishing Their Bodies
20th Century Fox
There are actors who will truly live the role to win that Oscar-winning gold. It can mean losing an extreme amount of weight, gaining a ton of weight, or becoming uglier. For instance, Leonardo DiCaprio finally won Best Actor by eating raw bison, putting on weight, and sleeping on animal carcasses for The Revenant. With these actors putting their lives on the line, how can you refuse them gold?
Everyone likes an underdog. Most Oscar baits will have someone who is rotten on his or her luck to finally rise to the top. These films can either work as a comedy or a drama. One example is Erin Brockovich, the true story of a single mother fighting against an energy company for polluting the city’s water supply. This movie won Julia Roberts the Oscar for Best Actress at the 73rd Academy Awards.
14. Foreign Genre
Fox Searchlight Pictures
There are a number of European filmmakers that try to appeal to the Academy. After all, the Academy loves watching films that show places you would not find in the United States. Show films that expose what it is like to live in the slums of Mumbai or Rio like Slumdog Millionaire or City of God and you have an Oscar bait film.
15. Independent Genre
We already have plenty of strong dramas that have taken the lead in Oscar bait. But sometimes, the Academy needs a break from heartwarming and taps into witty. Independent films can do just that with their smart dialogue, unique characters, and occasional sarcasm. While originally these films would be about the pointless vacuum of life, now more of them are becoming more positive and real. Lady Bird does just that in introducing us to a vibrant teenager navigating her senior year and her relationship with her mother. This film was nominated for five awards such as Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Original Screenplay.
16. Sci-Fi or Fantasy Genre
New Line Cinema
You can count on films in the science fiction or fantasy genre to win based on their technical visuals, makeup, and sound. Science fiction films have a chance of a Best Picture nomination if they have a deep message. To give you an idea, look at James Cameron’s Best Picture-nominated film Avatar. The message in that film was the conflict between humanity and nature as well as evils of racism. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King managed to win Best Picture for being a high-budget film successfully adapting a best-selling book.
17. Troubled Country Star
Fox Searchlight Pictures
You may be wondering, why would playing a country star help to win an Oscar? Well, country stars are emotional beings that pour their hearts into their music and battle their inner demons at the same time. Look at Jeff Bridges playing an alcoholic former country star in Crazy Heart or Sissy Spacek playing country music star Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter. Both of these characters had their hardships and made a name for themselves. Plus, both of these actors won Oscars for their roles. Even Reese Witherspoon won for Walk the Line in playing Johnny Cash’s love interest who helps treat his drug addiction.
18. Actors Playing Big Stars
20th Century Fox
Actors tend to feel special and honored to be able to fill the big shoes of big stars. The pressure of wanting to do right by these real-life idols requires them to do their own research. They need to make extreme changes to their appearance, voice, and movements to embody the role. For example, Rami Malek just won Best Actor for his role as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. He wore false teeth and studied the stars that inspired Freddie Mercury’s performances like David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, and Aretha Franklin.
19. Films About Hollywood
The final ingredient to a great Oscar bait film is to sparkle the eyes of the Academy with Hollywood glamor. The lights, the cameras, the leading man with a beautiful woman by his side, and set designs that you cannot take your eyes off of. After all, La La Land was nominated for 14 Oscars and won six including Best Director and Best Actress. The Artist is another Best Picture winner that portrays the silent film era of the 20s and 30s.Next